O'HARA: Top free agents signed by Lions in second wave or later

Some free advice for Detroit Lions fans who can’t wait for the next wave of free-agent signings:

Be patient.

Now that you’ve no doubt ignored that, your passion for action can be cooled below the boiling point by knowing that in recent seasons the Lions have signed quality players everywhere from the second wave of free agency to the last trickle before the start of the season.

In all three phases – offense, defense and special teams – the Lions have signed players who made significant contributions either as starters or key rotation players.

Here is a look at the top free agents signed in the second wave and later by the Lions in every season in the last six years (2013-18). It is limited to players who were signed before the start of the season. For example, that eliminates kicker Matt Prater, who was signed before Game 5 of 2014.

The list that follows is made up of players signed by the Lions later in free agency, as opposed to second-tier and lower players signed early. Anquan Boldin, for example, was a starter signed just before the start of camp.

2013 - Cornerback Rashean Mathis: After 10 seasons, 30 interceptions and one first-team All Pro award in Jacksonville, the Jaguars chose not to offer Mathis a contract for 2013. Mathis was still available when the Lions signed him on Aug. 17. Three weeks later, Mathis led all Lions defensive backs with five tackles, one for a loss, in an opening-day road win over the Vikings.

Bottom line: The Lions got more than they could have bargained for. Mathis was a veteran influence on the field and in the locker room along with safety Glover Quin -- who was signed in the first wave of free agency. Mathis played 38 games for the Lions. A concussion sustained in midseason of 2015 ultimately ended his career.

2014 - Edge rusher George Johnson: He was invited in April to try out for an offseason roster spot. Johnson thought his chances of being signed on the spot were so slim that he didn’t bring a change of clothes. He thought he’d be returning home to New Jersey the same day. The Lions liked what they saw and signed him.

Bottom line: Before coming to the Lions Johnson had played 11 games in two seasons with the Bucs and Vikings without getting a sack. He played a key role with six sacks on a Lions defense that ranked second in the league overall and first against the run. He moved on to Tampa, then back to Detroit briefly in 2017 with little impact.

2015 - Wide receiver Lance Moore: The Lions needed a third receiver to go with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, and Moore fit the role after nine seasons with the Saints and one with the Steelers.

Bottom line: Moore knew his role and played it well. He had 29 catches and four TDs – one of them the game-clincher in the Lions’ first road win over the Packers since 1991.

2016 - Wide receiver Anquan Boldin: Training camps around the league were about to open, and Boldin was still without a team going into his 14th season and with 69 catches for San Francisco the previous season. On July 28, he signed a one-year contract with the Lions for what ultimately would be his last season in a career worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Bottom line: From the first snap of camp, Boldin lined up with Tate and Marvin Jones Jr. in the three-receiver formation. He had 62 receptions, second most to Tate’s 91, and a team-high eight TDs. No one was more respected than Boldin for his work ethic and competitive nature.

2017 - Fullback/linebacker Nick Bellore: There was more to do after GM Bob Quinn had acted quickly to sign guard T.J. Lang and tackle Rick Wagner to beef up the right side of the offensive line. Defensive tackle Akeem Spence and Darren Fells for depth at tight end were added soon after. Bellore came aboard in April.

Bottom line: Versatility and a role as a special teams ace has kept Bellore in the NFL for eight seasons since making the Jets’ roster in 2011 as an undrafted rookie out of Central Michigan. He played linebacker and fullback for the Lions in 2017. In 2018 he was made a full-time fullback, where he excelled as a lead blocker.

2018 – Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois: He was signed in mid-July to add depth up front and experience in head coach Matt Patricia’s system. He was a late addition after numerous early signings – Christin Jones, Devon Kennard and Kenny Wiggins among them.

Bottom line: His work ethic, strength and having played half of the 2017 season with the Patriots, made Jean Francois a valuable addition.

Note: Two other late additions to the defensive line were made after training camp, but not as free agents.

Romeo Okwara was claimed on waivers from the Giants before the first game. He led the Lions in sacks with 7.5. Damon Harrison Sr. was acquired in a midseason trade from the Giants. He played at a Pro Bowl level on a defense that improved steadily in the second half of the season.

Both are examples of how Quinn is always looking to improve the roster.

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